Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tell me more about studded bicycle tires.

Studded tires come in many different sizes and shapes.  I’m not so much going to talk about tire sizes, because you need to get the tires that fit your bike, but I will talk about the different shapes because they define the purpose of the tire.  

1) Ice tires:  These are relatively narrow and have relatively little tread, but quite a few studs.  They are designed to roll pretty quickly on pavement and work well on ice, but do not have enough tread to really deal with snow… either soft packed or fluffy.  

Kenda Klondike:    These have some tread, but not enough for deeper snow.  

Suomi purchased Nokian’s bike tire division a while back.  The W106 is their ice tire.  They also make the Ice Speed, which is their commuter tire.  These are arguably the best tires of this kind available.

2) Snow Tires:  These are often a little wider (35-45mm wide), have lots of studs and also a lot of tread lugs for dealing with loose snow.  These work GREAT in bad conditions, but are heavier and don’t roll as fast on pavement.  

Suomi purchased Nokian’s bike tire division a year or two back.  The W240 is their snow tire.  These are arguably the best available and are priced accordingly.

45Nrth Gravdal is their snow/ice tire.  Looks awesome.  I haven’t used it, but their reputation is good.  These are often difficult to get ahold of.

Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires are somewhere between Snow and Ice tires.  They’re arguably the best made and most durable studded tires ever.

3) Mountain bike tires: These are fat.  They’re 2-4” wide at least and they have plenty of tread as well plenty of studs.  Like the snow tires, they’re great in loose snow, hard pack and ice, but they’re also GREAT on rutted ice.  They’re also good for going mountain biking, if there are icy trails.  

Suomi purchased Nokian’s bike tire division a few years ago.  The Gazza Extreme 294 is as good as it gets in this type of tire.

45Nrth Dillinger 5 fat tire:  This is it if you’ve got a fat bike.  I used one last year and it was flawless.  It weighs a ton. 

45Nrth Nicotine is the 29er studded tire.  It is 2.35” wide and awesome.


Can I install my own studs?  Yes and no.  Yes you can.  There is a tool and you can buy studs.  Some folks have made studded tires out of wood screws.  They don’t last.  

Which is best for me?  I always choose the Snow or MTB tires.  They work well in slush, loose snow, ice and hardback.  I don’t care that they’re slower on pavement than the pure ice tires.  If you never ride in loose snow or bumpy ice, then the ice tires will work well for you.  In the DC suburbs, the ice never stays smooth for long.  Go with something that can handle snow, ice and bumps.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ice Riding with Studded Tires 101

Riding a bicycle in ice and snow can be a daunting task.  Hopefully this blog post and a good set of studded tires will help.  Bicycle tires equipped with carbide studs have been around for many decades.  For people new to snow and ice riding, they make it possible.  The techniques that you learn when riding with studded tires will help you be a better bicycle rider in all conditions.

Here's a short list of things that will help.  It is not, by any means, exhaustive.  Please add to it if you'd like!!!

1) Relax.  Chill.  Everything is gonna be alright.  Ice and gravity want to make things happen quickly.  You need to resist the temptation to act quickly.  Sudden, quick movements will break even studded tires free on the ice and then gravity takes over.  If you relax and move slowly, you’re much more likely to stay upright and let the bike do its work.  The bike wants to roll straight and upright.  Let it do its work.

2) Studded tires do not instantly make you a superhero.  I know that this sounds like a complete contradiction to item #1, but it really isn’t.  Studded tires give you SOME traction where there isn’t much to conventional tires.  They are not, however, infallible.  You need to use them as a tool to guide the bike.  Proper technique is what makes the bike go where you want it to more than studded tires do.  Studded tires just keep you upright long enough to learn good technique.

3) Avoid the ruts:  Melt and freeze cycles mean that ice will get grooves and ruts in it.  If you drop a tire into a rut, the groove in the ice will guide where your bike goes regardless of where you try to steer.  This can cause a problem when the rut takes your bike one direction and your weight goes a different direction.  If your wheel goes into a rut, that’s not the end of the world.  You’ll learn to deal with it.  Remember #1 (Relax!  Chill!)  and #6 (Weight Control will get you out of the rut.)  

4) Momentum is your friend:  There will be a time when you start to feel comfortable on your bike with studded tires.  You’ll get #1 and #6 down to a science.  This is the point where you figure out that riding a little faster makes it easier for the bike to do its job.  

5) Brakes only slow you down:  When traction is high (on pavement and dirt) the brakes become a security blanket.  When in doubt, hit the brakes because they’ll fix a lot of problems.  When traction is hard to find (on ice and snow) the brakes cause many more problems than they solve.  Grabbing a fist full of brake is something that causes the kind of quick action that gets rid of #1 and #6.  You don’t relax and you are no longer in control of where your weight is taking you.  

6) Weight Control:  Steering on ice and snow is more about how you weight your handlebars than how you turn your handlebars.  When traction is hard to find, the best way to steer to the left is to put more weight on your left hand on your handlebars.  This puts the studs on the left side of the tire on edge and starts your turn to the left.  It doesn’t happen quickly, but remember item #1:  Relax.  Chill.  Everything is gonna be alright.  

7) Learn somewhere safe:  Multi-use trails are great for learning how to ride on ice and snow.  They’re not always plowed. When they’re icy, you’re more likely to be the only one out on the trail.  You’ve often got plenty of escape routes.  When in doubt, ride into the soft snow off the side of the trail.  You’ll get a little more traction and also have a soft place to land if the worst happens and you crash.  The important thing is to plan ahead and know where your escape routes are.  Keep an eye on the trail ahead and to the side.  

8) Have fun!